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Emperor Tarot Card Meanings
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UPRIGHT: Authority, establishment, structure, a father figure
REVERSED: Domination, excessive control, lack of discipline, inflexibility
If the Empress is the Mother archetype of the Tarot deck, the Emperor is the Father. He sits upon a large stone throne, adorned with four rams’ heads (symbolic of his connection with Aries and the planet Mars). In his right hand, the Emperor holds an ankh, the Egyptian symbol of life, and in his left is an orb representing the world over which he rules.
He wears a red robe, indicative of his power, passion and energy for life. Underneath it, he wears a suit of armour, suggesting that he is protected from any threat (and any emotional response or vulnerability). His long white beard is symbolic of his age-old wisdom and experience, and along with his gold crown, he is an authority figure who demands to be heard.
Behind his throne looms a tall, impenetrable mountain range, signifying that he is backed by a solid foundation but resistant to making any changes unless he deems it necessary. Beneath the peaks flows a small river, giving some hope that despite his tough exterior, he is still an emotional being – it will just take a lot of digging and trust to open him up to his softer side.
NOTE: The Tarot card meaning description is based on the Rider Waite cards.
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As the father figure of the Tarot deck, the Emperor suggests that you are adopting this fatherly role (regardless of whether you are male or female), providing for your family, and protecting and defending your loved ones. You may be the breadwinner or the ‘rock’ for those who rely on your stability and security.
Similarly, the Emperor represents a powerful leader who demands respect and authority. Status, power and recognition are essential to you, and you are most comfortable in a leadership role where you can command and direct others. As a leader, you rule with a firm but fair hand. You have a clear vision of what you want to create, and you organise those around you to manifest your goal. You listen to the advice of others, but you prefer to have the final say. Conflict doesn’t scare you, and you won’t hesitate to use your power to protect those you care about. And in return, those people will repay you with the loyalty and respect you deserve. Claim your authority as leader and influencer and don’t let others put you down.
The Emperor reflects a system bound by rules and regulations. You create law and order by applying principles or guidelines to a specific situation. Create calm out of chaos by breaking down any problem into its parts and then mapping out the actions you need to take to resolve it. Be systematic, strategic and highly organised in your approach, and stick to your plan until the end.
The Emperor card also signifies world knowledge and expertise. Through the course of your life, you have gained valuable wisdom and life experience, and now you enjoy offering guidance, advice, and direction to someone who might benefit from it. You may be a teacher, coach, boss, or just a good friend who likes to take what you have learned and pass it on so that others can be as wise and powerful as you.
The reversed Emperor calls on you to assess your relationship with power, control, authority, responsibility and discipline. Are you expressing too much or too little of these elements in your life right now? Are they working for you or against you?
In the reversed position, the Emperor can be domineering and rigid in his thinking. The card can suggest an over-use and abuse of authoritative power surrounding you. It could originate from you or from another person, often a boss, partner or father figure. And it may be because of deep insecurities or father issues from childhood.
Consider the role that power plays in your life. Are you asserting your power and dominance in a way that leaves others feeling powerless? Or are you giving away your personal power to please someone else, often a father-figure or a person in authority? Seek to find a solution where you lead from a place of personal power and enable others to do the same. Power can be equally and constructively distributed – you don’t need to take it from others, nor do you need to give yours away.
The reversed Emperor may be a sign that others look to you as their leader or as an expert in the field but you are shying away from the role. You may fear being seen as the leader, instead preferring to hide in the shadows or stay out of the spotlight. There may be other ways you can make an impact and influence the world, such as authoring a book or training others to reach a bigger audience.
Sometimes, the reversed Emperor asks you to stand up to authority. You may feel fed up with an overbearing boss or a hierarchical organisation and feel compelled to enter a more flexible and adaptive environment. Maybe you aspire to be your own boss and work independently by starting up your own business. Or, you may seek a career where you can have greater flexibility and creativity in how you complete your work. You are sick of having to always work within the confines of a particular structure or way of doing things, and you want to break free from it.
When the reversed Emperor pops up in a Tarot reading, pay attention to your commitment to your goals and your self-discipline to get the job done. If you are struggling to see any real outcomes, check that you have a plan in place, a routine to support it, and the dedication to see it through. You may need to get a little tough on yourself and do the uncomfortable work you’d prefer to avoid. But if you can harness the positive, upright energy of the Emperor, your efforts will lead to success.
In a relationship reading, the reversed Emperor suggests that you may be in an unequal partnership and it‘s making you unhappy in the long term. Your significant other has become overbearing, possessive, dominating and authoritative. While you may have been looking for a partner to take care of you and offer a stable foundation for the future, those qualities have gone too far, and it seems as though much of your independence and freedom have been taken away. This dynamic is putting a strain on the relationship and preventing a flow of energies between you.